What are figs?
Figs, often considered a fruit, are actually a flower that is inserted into itself. The actual fruit component is the seeds, or drupes.
Made popular in 1892 with the first commercially manufactured cookie (the Fig Newton), figs actually date far back in history, being the most referenced fruit in the Bible, dating back to the Babylonian hymnbook around 2000 B.C.
Ancient Greeks recognized the nutritional benefits of the fig, using it as the primary training fuel of the Olympic athletes and even presented figs to the winners as some of the first known medals.
Often banned from export in order to preserve the sacred tree, figs were recognized for medicinal purposes. The Greek King of Pontus ordered all of his physicians to recommend figs for the healing powers of all ailments and suggested they be eaten daily by all.
This recommendation may not have been far off the mark, as research has indicated that ficin, a protein-digesting enzyme found within figs, are part of a group on enzymes leading to apoptosis (natural process of cell death) of cancer cells. (Hashemi, S A et al, 2011) This benefit grows stronger when we consider the antioxidant compounds found within figs that are able to assist in fighting free radicals that cause DNA damage and accelerate the aging process.
These positive attributes are why it is not surprising that figs are a primary part of the Mediterranean diet, known as one of the top diets for reducing chronic disease. The fig fits perfectly into the Med diet approach as a recommended dessert option.
Today all dried figs harvested in the US are grown in California’s Central Valley.
Selection of fresh figs
Look for figs that are clean and dry, with smooth, unbroken skin. Soft and yielding to the touch, but not mushy.
Store figs in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Use within two days for optimal freshness. Not going to use them in time?
How to dry figs in the oven
- Set oven to lowest temperature (110-115 degrees F)
- Wash figs. Cut away imperfections, then cut in half lengthwise.
- Arrange a single layer of figs on foil-lined baking sheets so that pieces are not touching.
- Place in the oven, leaving oven door ajar and turning heat off and on to avoid heating figs above 135 degrees F
- Dry at intervals turning them occasionally until they are reduced to about 1/4 their fresh weight.
- Cool and store immediately in airtight containers in a cool, dry place or in plastic bags in the freezer.
- Dried (1/4 cup; 40 grams)
- Calories: 110
- Carbohydrates: 26g
- Fiber: 5g
- 244mg potassium (7% of the Daily Value), 53mg calcium (6% of the Daily Value), and 6% of your daily needs for iron
- Figs are a fat, sodium, and cholesterol free food
Hashemi, S A et al. “The Effect of Fig Tree Latex (Ficus carica) on Stomach Cancer Line” Iranian Red Crescent medical journal vol. 13,4 (2011): 272-5.
American Council for Food Safety and Quality, Dried Fruit Association Analysis
Why are Figs Important for Spartans?
Early figs were used as a training fuel for olympic athletes, then given as medals to the winners. This fact alone helps highlight the recognized benefits of the fig.
In addition to being a carbohydrate fuel source, figs contain multiple other benefits for training and recovery, including:
- Antioxidants to reduce free radicals created during training.
- Magnesium supports blood pressure and blood sugar regulation and assists with energy production, protein formation, and muscle contraction.
- Potassium helps metabolize carbohydrates, maintain fluid balance, influences muscle contraction, helps regulate heart and nervous system function, and assists protein formation.
- Manganese for carbohydrate, protein, and cholesterol metabolism.
- Copper for iron metabolism, collagen and connective tissue formation, and energy production.
Athlete highlight: Due to their multiple health benefits and use as a training fuel, figs are the perfect snack for pre or post-workout. Dried figs are especially easy to incorporate since the can easily be taken in a gym bag, stored in a hydration pack or fuel belt, and eaten on endurance events where minimal available carrying space is of concern.